US Congress advances Bill to support Hong Kong protesters

In a photo from Sept 8, 2019, protesters wave US national flags as they march from Chater Garden to the US consulate in Hong Kong. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - US Congressional committees in the House and Senate approved legislation supporting pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, warning China that any crackdown could revoke the city's special trading status with the US.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday (Sept 25) advanced legislation that would require annual assessments of whether Hong Kong is sufficiently autonomous from Beijing to justify its unique treatment under US law.

The Senate panel approved a bill sponsored by GOP Senator Marco Rubio of Florida a few hours after the House committee passed a companion bill sponsored by Republican Representative Chris Smith of New Jersey.

"It is absolutely essential that we speak out in regards to what's happening in Hong Kong," said Senator Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat and another one of the Senate bill's sponsors.

The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019 would also require the president to report to Congress and impose sanctions on the individuals responsible for "abducting and torturing" human rights activists.

China expressed its objections to the move in a website statement by foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang. China will fight back against any US actions that harm China's national interest, the ministry said.

The Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office also condemned the move on Thursday.

"We strongly condemn and firmly oppose such an act of gross interference in China's domestic affairs and serious violation of international laws and basic norms governing international relations," a spokesperson said in a statement.

"Hong Kong belongs to China," said the spokesperson, noting that the affairs of Hong Kong are purely China's internal affairs and brook no interference from any outside forces.

Each bill will now head to a floor vote in their respective chambers.

The swift advancement of both measures underscores the bipartisan support for the protesters in Hong Kong and concerns about China's reaction to the movement, which has gained momentum since the city's leader, Mrs Carrie Lam, introduced legislation to allow extraditions to China several months ago.

Mrs Lam has since formally withdrawn the extraditions bill but protests continue.

Last week, lawmakers heard from several of the protesters and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced her support of the bill.

Senator Jim Risch, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has said that Senate Majority Mitch McConnell will allow a floor vote on the bill.

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